Butler As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 69,024 black Americans with Butler as their last name. That represented 32% of the total of 218,847 entries.

This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Butler in the last three centuries.

We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.

Butler Before The Civil War

The 1850 census was the first to record all free members of households together. Before this, people who were not white were not named in the federal census.

In 1850, there was a box to enter color on the census. There were three categories: white, black, and mulatto. The third term is the language of the time, and I will use mixed in this article.

If you are researching your black Butler ancestors in census archives, be sure to check the two non-white categories. Do not assume that the people recording the information were always correct.

1850 Federal Census

There were 1,370 people named Butler who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 401 were recorded as mixed.

Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.

There was a total of 19,848 free citizens named Butler that year. There would be one more census in 1860 before the Civil War.

After The Civil War

The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. All African Americans were included.

Those who were omitted in 1850 and 1860 because they were enslaved were now recorded.

9,093 people named Butler were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 1,507 as mixed.

There was a total of 40,492 people with the name.

Butler In The 1900 And 1940 Census

The mixed category was dropped in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.

The 1900 census recorded 18,990 people named Butler as black within a total of 69,436 that year.

By the way, the mixed category returned in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. It was dropped again in 1930, but replaced with extra categories for colored and non-white in a way that seems confusing now.

This changed again in 1940 and we can simply focus on one black category.

The 1940 census recorded 27,408 people named Butler as black within a total of 112,246.

Historic Black Figures With The Butler Surname

Here are some notable African American people in history with Butler as their last name.

William Butler

  • Born: about 1829
  • From: Maryland
  • Died: 1892

William Butler worked as a carpenter in Annapolis through the 1850s. He married the niece of a master carpenter who built the first black Methodist church in the town.

Annapolis underwent a building boom in the 1860s and Butler prospered. He had purchased over 25 properties by the 1870s. Butler also built five houses as rental properties over a period of five years from 1885.

Butler was also a civic leader and helped build schools and churches.

He was elected as an alderman in 1873. This made him the first African American to be elected to public office in Maryland.

His son William Butler Jr. was later elected in 1893 to the Annapolis City Council.

Other wealthy African Americans in the 18th century

Here are some more African Americans who amassed significant wealth before 1900.

Octavia Butler

  • Born: 1947
  • From: Pasadena, California
  • Died: 2006

Octavia Butler discovered fantasy and science fiction as a child in her local library. She started writing in her teens and won a college short-story contest.

Her subsequent work was spotted by Harlan Ellison and Samuel R. Delany, two successful sci-fi authors. They became her mentors and friends.

Butler went on to become a master of dystopian fiction that explored race, gender, hierarchy, and oppression. She won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, the top prizes for science fiction.

“Kindred” is her best-selling novel and is critically acclaimed. It is a tale of time travel in which a young black woman shifts back and forth between Los Angeles in 1976 and a Maryland plantation before the Civil War.

One of my personal favorites is Parable of the Sower, which was published in 1993. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale that explores themes of discrimination, environment, and community.

Butler In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.

Here are examples of the Butler surname from three different military services:

  • Buffalo soldiers
  • Black civil war sailors
  • Tuskegee airmen

Buffalo Soldiers

Five regiments for black soldiers were formed during the Civil War. They were known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

Their records are part of the national archive of military monthly returns. The information includes the year and place of birth, where they enlisted, their occupation, and their height.

One of the earliest military entries for Butler was in June 1867.

Lewis Butler was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in June 1867 at Fort Riley, Kansas.

One of the later entries was in March 1914. George Butler was a Corporal in the Ninth Cavalry.

If you are researching military ancestors, there is a free index of these records on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. You have to create an account on either website, but you do not need to pay for the Buffalo Soldiers archive.

Black Civil War Sailors

The National Parks Service has a free archive of African American sailors during the Civil War.

The information includes their age, height, rank, occupation, and where and when they enlisted. It also includes every ship that they served on.

You can search the database on the National Parks website.

One of the earliest entries for Butler was for Stewart Butler from Baltimore, Maryland. He enlisted in May 1861 aged 36.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Caulker. His naval rank was Ordinary Seaman.

An ordinary seaman in the Navy is an apprentice who serves on the deck.

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted in June 1863. Henry was aged 28 and was from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Cook. His naval rank was Landsman.

“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.

Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen were military personnel who served at the Tuskegee Army Airfield or related programs.

Nearly one thousand black pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Institute. The photograph above (from the Library of Congress) shows a class in session.

They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.

Jewel Butler graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in March 1946. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Jewel was from Denison, Texas.

You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.